The West has long made promises of aid to Africa, pledging support and assistance to help uplift the continent from poverty and underdevelopment. However, as we delve deeper into the issue, it becomes apparent that these promises have been broken time and time again.
In this article, Who Owns Africa will explore how the West has betrayed Africa through its failed aid initiatives and ineffective approach to development.
One prime example of this betrayal is the debacle of Western military intervention, particularly by France, in the Sahel region. The recent Niger coup has exposed the comprehensive failure of Western strategy in this area, as well as the embarrassment it has caused. Despite efforts to link economic development and security through initiatives like the Sahel Alliance, which was jointly promoted by France and Germany, the wave of coups in the region signifies a clear failure in achieving these goals.
The Sahel Alliance, launched in July 2017, aimed to coordinate aid and development projects across the region. With over 1,100 projects and a cumulative funding commitment of €22.97 billion as of 2023, it seemed like a promising initiative. Niger, one of the countries in the region, received project commitments worth over €5.8 billion. However, these financial commitments pale in comparison to the scale of the Sahel’s development needs.
The western Sahel is home to 100 million of some of the poorest people on Earth. Niger, with a population of 25 million, has the third-lowest human development index in the world and the highest birth rate. Despite being hailed as a western bastion in the region, the reality is grim – almost two-thirds of the population cannot read. This stark disparity between the promises of aid and the actual impact on the ground is deeply disheartening.
In 2021, the combined total of official development assistance for Niger amounted to $1.78 billion, according to OECD data. While this may sound like a substantial amount, it is merely a drop in the ocean when considering the magnitude of the country’s development needs. The West’s approach to aid has often been short-sighted, focusing on quick fixes rather than sustainable solutions. This has only perpetuated the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment in Africa.
Moreover, the West’s aid initiatives often come with conditions and strings attached, effectively undermining the sovereignty of African nations. Instead of empowering African governments and communities to drive their own development, the West dictates the terms and priorities of aid, often serving its own interests rather than those of the recipient countries.
Niger is in dire need of investment in education, irrigation, and basic health services. However, the per capita foreign aid received in 2021 amounted to a mere $71 for every person living in Niger, or just $1.37 per week. These meagre funds were distributed as follows: around 7 cents for education, 15 cents for health, and 30 cents for production and infrastructure. A mere twenty-six cents were allocated to meet the most basic requirements for survival.
While it is true that money alone cannot solve all problems, development initiatives also require practical engineering solutions and effective institutions. Without adequate security measures, progress becomes nearly impossible. Unfortunately, achieving these goals would be an uphill battle without sufficient funding. The disparity between western aid contributions and the actual needs of Niger and its neighbouring countries raises doubts about the sincerity of efforts to combine development with security.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Africa as a whole faces an annual gap of $272 billion between the necessary spending to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and the available funding from aid and financial markets.
A recent estimate suggests that low-income and emerging market economies would require an additional expenditure of $1.3 trillion per year by 2025 to meet sustainable development goals. While these figures are undoubtedly significant, they can be managed within the context of global GDP, which stands at approximately $100 trillion. The key question remains how we can mobilise the necessary funds to address these pressing needs effectively.
Over the past decade, China has provided significant financial support to developing countries, lending a staggering $2 trillion through bank loans, trade credit, and debt obligations. Their investments in Niger’s oil and uranium projects alone amount to over $5 billion. However, this flow of funds from Beijing has now come to an end. In response, the European Union has introduced the Gateway program as a countermeasure to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This initiative aims to raise €150 billion, a substantial increase compared to previous EU efforts. If concentrated in the Sahel region, this funding could significantly address its needs. Unfortunately, it may be too little too late at this stage.
In recent news from Washington, the Biden administration expressed its support for reforming the World Bank and IMF at the upcoming G20 meeting hosted by India in September. National security adviser Jake Sullivan emphasised that these proposed changes would be transparent and voluntary alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
However, despite these intentions, it is important to acknowledge that size plays a crucial role in addressing the financial needs of developing countries. The maximum amount of US support for lending to these nations that Sullivan was able to offer was around $50 billion. Even with participation from “allies and partners,” the total promised amount would only reach approximately $200 billion – merely a fraction of what is required.
The World Bank introduced the phrase “Billions to trillions” in 2015 to highlight the need for a significant shift in mindset, approaches, and accountability to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, even after eight years, both the EU and the US have yet to make substantial progress towards this ambitious goal. As a result, their credibility is suffering, particularly in some of the most impoverished regions globally.
To truly support Africa’s development, the West must revisit its approach to aid. It needs to prioritise long-term investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and job creation, rather than relying on short-term projects that yield limited impact. Additionally, the West should respect the autonomy and agency of African nations, working collaboratively with them to determine their development priorities and ensure that aid is responsive to their needs.
Africa deserves better than broken promises and token gestures of aid. It deserves a genuine commitment from the West to uplift its people and support its sustainable development. It is time for the West to reflect on its past failures and take concrete steps towards fulfilling its promises. Only then can we hope to see a transformed and prosperous Africa, benefitting both its people and the global community.